Travel news and advice

Shenzhen, Indonesia, Sri Lanka on Lonely Planet’s 2019 best places to visit list

  • ‘China’s most innovative city’ ranks with ‘capital of cool’ Copenhagen among publisher’s top cities to see in 2019
  • Sri Lanka rated for diversity of holiday options, and Kyrgyzstan for ‘amazing independent travel in unspoilt natural beauty’
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 8:02pm

Where are the best places to travel to next year? If you want a city break, go to “capital of cool” Copenhagen, “China’s most innovative city” Shenzhen or the up-and-coming Novi Sad in Serbia, according to Lonely Planet, which has unveiled its annual Best in Travel lists of the best travel destinations, trends, journeys and experiences to have in the year ahead.

Sri Lanka claimed the top spot in its list of countries to visit in 2019, with Germany and Zimbabwe just behind, while Italy's Piedmont, the Catskills in the USA, and northern Peru topped the list of must-see regions. Egypt’s Southern Nile Valley, Lodz in Poland and the USA’s Great Smoky Mountains were named as the three best-value destinations for 2019.

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“Shenzhen is a city with a futuristic vibe, lots of young people, new cafes, a craft beer scene, a new arts district – there is so much going on there that we feel it's a good time for people to tap into it,” said Matt Philips, destination editor at Lonely Planet.

The establishment of the Museum of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition and V&A Gallery at Design Society, and of a new arts district generally, also contributed to Shenzhen's selection, as did the decision by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) to host the WTA Finals, the most prestigious event on its calendar, at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre from October 2019 until 2028.

However, Shenzhen's selection was also based on ease of access for visitors to Hong Kong, and an increasingly easy visa system for international travellers.

“You can now get on a train in Hong Kong, go through immigration there, and go through straight to Shenzhen – it's a great way to experience China's most innovative city during a short stopover,” said Philips of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. “It gives people already going to Hong Kong the opportunity to get a taste of modern mainland China.”

Another Asian city in the top 10 city list this year is Kathmandu in Nepal, which suffered a massive earthquake in April 2015. “It's an old travellers’ favourite, but it got knocked off travellers’ list by the earthquake,” says Philips. “It's already a story of rejuvenation, and by next year we think it's going to be on a roll.”

He said Kathmandu had made moves recently to calm city traffic, lessen smog and noise, and in general create a cleaner and more sustainable city. “It's going to be a while until the main temples in the city are totally refurbished, but while you may not be able to go in all of them, just from walking around the main area it's obvious that the soul, the architecture and the vibe of the place is still very much there,” he said.

Asia had three entries in Lonely Planet's Top 10 countries list, with Kyrgyzstan and Indonesia also featuring.

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Hong Kong last featured in Lonely Planet's Top Cities in Best in Travel 2012, when it was placed eighth on the list.

Sri Lanka came top in the list of best countries to visit primarily because travel has become much easier there since the civil war ended in 2009.

“It's changed so much, so quickly, and in a lot of ways that makes travel much easier,” said Philips. “During the civil war there were large tracts in the north that were completely off limits, but now there are new road and rail links, and new internal flights.”

He also said travel products had hugely evolved in Sri Lanka, and now include diverse opportunities beyond mere beach holidays, from eco-tourism and yoga retreats to visiting national parks to see elephants and leopards.

“It's also great for foodies – Sri Lanka has everything,” Philips added.

Tourists throng Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park to spot a leopard

Lonely Planet’s best travel destinations for 2019

Top 10 Countries

1. Sri Lanka

2. Germany

3. Zimbabwe

4. Panama

5. Kyrgyzstan

6. Jordan

7. Indonesia

8. Belarus

9. São Tomé and Príncipe

10. Belize

Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia has long been off the tourist map, but it has come to the attention of independent travellers in the past few years, according to Lonely Planet. “It's one of those places that has gone under the radar, but for people in the know it's one of the last bastions for amazing independent travel in unspoilt natural beauty,” said Philips.

More than 2,700km of newly marked trekking routes have been installed, and the national highway system revamped. A simplified e-visa programme has also been introduced for citizens of those countries not already on the list of 60+ visa-free countries.

Bangladesh made seventh on the Best Value Destinations list, while Gujarat in India made the Top 10 Regions.

Every year Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel lists start with nominations from its community of editors, researchers, locals, and influencers, which are ranked by a panel of judges to create what Lonely Planet calls an eclectic list containing unique, compelling and topical reasons to visit various destinations in the year ahead.